Tennessee Separation Agreement Law

Divorce – Separation Agreements – Tennessee

Note: This summary is not intended to be an all inclusive discussion of the law of separation agreements in Tennessee, but does include basic and other provisions.

General Summary: The parties to a marriage may make an agreement in writing to an immediate separation and may make provision for the support of either of them and of their children during such separation. Divorce stipulations are governed by the rules of contract. The terms of a stipulated property settlement agreement that, by its terms, is not merged into the decree, retains significance as an independent contract. Still, those terms relating to alimony and child support provisions are subject to revision when conditions change. The property settlement aspects of the agreement are not modifiable without the agreement of the parties.


Tennessee Code
Title 36 Domestic Relations
Chapter 4 Divorce and Annulment

Irreconcilable differences – Procedure:


(1) In all divorces sought because of irreconcilable differences between the parties, if the defendant is a nonresident, personal service may be effectuated by service upon the secretary of state pursuant to the provisions of § 20-2-215.

(2) In lieu of service of process, the defendant may enter into a written notarized marital dissolution agreement with plaintiff that makes specific reference to a pending divorce by a court and docket number, or states that the defendant is aware that one will be filed in this state and that the defendant waives further service and waives filing an answer to the complaint.

Such waiver of service shall be valid for a period of one hundred eighty (180) days from the date the last party signs the agreement. The agreement may include the obligation and payment of alimony, in solido or in futuro, to either of the parties, any other provision of the law notwithstanding. The signing of such an agreement shall be in lieu of service of process for the period such waiver is valid and shall constitute a general appearance before the court and answer which shall give the court personal jurisdiction over the defendant, and constitute a default judgment for the purpose of granting a divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences.

(3) No divorce heretofore granted shall be invalid because the agreement was signed and notarized or acknowledged prior to filing under prior law before the action was filed.

(b) No divorce shall be granted on the ground of irreconcilable differences unless the court affirmatively finds in its decree that the parties have made adequate and sufficient provision by written agreement for the custody and maintenance of any children of that marriage and for the equitable settlement of any property rights between the parties. If the court does not affirmatively find that the agreement is sufficient or equitable, the cause shall be continued by the court to allow further disposition by the petitioner. If both parties are present at the hearing, they may, at that time, ratify any amendments the court may have to the agreement. The amended agreement shall then become a part of the decree. The agreement shall be incorporated in the decree or incorporated by reference, and such decree may be modified as other decrees for divorce. Section 36-4-103. . . .

Distribution of marital property:


(1) In all actions for divorce or legal separation, the court having jurisdiction thereof may, upon request of either party, and prior to any determination as to whether it is appropriate to order the support and maintenance of one (1) party by the other, equitably divide, distribute or assign the marital property between the parties without regard to marital fault in proportions as the court deems just.

(2) In all actions for legal separation, the court, in its discretion, may equitably divide, distribute, or assign the marital property in whole or in part, or reserve the division or assignment of marital property until a later time. If the court makes a final distribution of marital property at the time of the decree of legal separation, any after-acquired property is separate property.

(3) To this end, the court shall be empowered to effectuate its decree by divesting and reinvesting title to such property and, where deemed necessary, to order a sale of such property and to order the proceeds divided between the parties.

(A) Any auction sale of property ordered pursuant to this section shall be conducted in accordance with the provisions of title 35, chapter 5.

(B) The court may order the provisions of title 35, chapter 5, to apply to any sale ordered by the court pursuant to this section.

(C) The court, in its discretion, may impose any additional conditions or procedures upon the sale of property in divorce cases as are reasonably designed to ensure that such property is sold for its fair market value.

(b) For purposes of this chapter:


(A) “Marital property” means all real and personal property, both tangible and intangible, acquired by either or both spouses during the course of the marriage up to the date of the final divorce hearing or up to the date of the legal separation hearing unless equity would require another valuation date and owned by either or both spouses as of the date of filing of a complaint for divorce or complaint for legal separation, except in the case of fraudulent conveyance in anticipation of filing and including any property to which a right was acquired up to the date of the final divorce hearing, or the date of legal separation hearing unless equity would require another valuation date, and valued as of a date as near as reasonably possible to the final divorce hearing date or the date of the legal separation hearing.

(B) “Marital property” includes income from, and any increase in value during the marriage of, property determined to be separate property in accordance with subdivision (b)(2) if each party substantially contributed to its preservation and appreciation, and the value of vested and unvested pension, vested and unvested stock option rights, retirement or other fringe benefit rights relating to employment that accrued during the period of the marriage.

(C) “Marital property” includes recovery in personal injury, workers’ compensation, social security disability actions, and other similar actions for the following: wages lost during the marriage, reimbursement for medical bills incurred and paid with marital property, and property damage to marital property.

(D) As used in this subsection, “substantial contribution” may include, but not be limited to, the direct or indirect contribution of a spouse as homemaker, wage earner, parent or family financial manager, together with such other factors as the court having jurisdiction thereof may determine.

(E) Property shall be considered marital property as defined by this subsection for the sole purpose of dividing assets upon divorce or legal separation and for no other purpose; and assets distributed as marital property will not be considered as income for child support or alimony purposes, except to the extent the asset will create additional income after the division.

(2) “Separate property” means:

(A) All real and personal property owned by a spouse before marriage;

(B) Property acquired in exchange for property acquired before the marriage;

(C) Income from and appreciation of property owned by a spouse before marriage except when characterized as marital property under subdivision (b)(1);

(D) Property acquired by a spouse at any time by gift, bequest, devise or descent;

(E) Pain and suffering awards, victim of crime compensation awards, future medical expenses, and future lost wages; and

(F) Property acquired by a spouse after an order of legal separation where the court has made a final disposition of property.

(c) In making equitable division of marital property, the court shall consider all relevant factors including:

(1) The duration of the marriage;
(2) The age, physical and mental health, vocational skills, employability, earning capacity, estate, financial liabilities and financial needs of each of the parties;
(3) The tangible or intangible contribution by one (1) party to the education, training or increased earning power of the other party;
(4) The relative ability of each party for future acquisitions of capital assets and income;
(5) The contribution of each party to the acquisition, preservation, appreciation, depreciation or dissipation of the marital or separate property, including the contribution of a party to the marriage as homemaker, wage earner or parent, with the contribution of a party as homemaker or wage earner to be given the same weight if each party has fulfilled its role;
(6) The value of the separate property of each party;
(7) The estate of each party at the time of the marriage;
(8) The economic circumstances of each party at the time the division of property is to become effective;
(9) The tax consequences to each party, costs associated with the reasonably foreseeable sale of the asset, and other reasonably foreseeable expenses associated with the asset;
(10) The amount of social security benefits available to each spouse; and
(11) Such other factors as are necessary to consider the equities between the parties.

(d) The court may award the family home and household effects, or the right to live therein and use the household effects for a reasonable period, to either party, but shall give special consideration to a spouse having physical custody of a child or children of the marriage.


(1) The court may impose a lien upon the marital real property assigned to a party, or upon such party’s separate real property, or both, as security for the payment of child support.

(2) The court may impose a lien upon the marital real property assigned to a party as security for the payment of spouse support or payment pursuant to property division.


(1) If, in making equitable distribution of marital property, the court determines that the distribution of an interest in a business, corporation or profession would be contrary to law, the court may make a distributive award of money or other property in order to achieve equity between the parties. The court, in its discretion, may also make a distributive award of money or other property to supplement, facilitate or effectuate a distribution of marital property.

(2) The court may provide that any distributive award payable over a period of time be secured by a lien on specific property.


(1) Nothing in this section shall be construed to prevent the affirmation, ratification and incorporation in a decree of an agreement between the parties regarding the division of property.

(2) Nothing in this section shall affect validity of an antenuptial agreement which is enforceable under § 36-3-501. Section 36-4-121.

Case Law:

A marital dissolution agreement is essentially a contract between a husband and wife in contemplation of divorce proceedings. Gray v. Estate of Gray, 993 S.W.2d 59 (Tenn.Ct.App. 1998). A property settlement agreement between a husband and wife is within the category of contracts and is to be looked upon and enforced as an agreement, and is to be construed as other contracts as respects its interpretation, its meaning and effect. Bruce v. Bruce, 801 S.W.2d 102, 105 (Tenn.App. 1990).

Only that portion of the property settlement between the parties dealing with the legal duty of child support or alimony, over which the court has continuing statutory power to modify, loses its contractual nature when incorporated and merged into a decree for divorce. Penland v. Penland, Tenn. 1975, 521 S.W. 2d 222.

Inside Tennessee Separation Agreement Law